Steelers vs. Giants first half review: Impossible not to mention officiating in otherwise strong opening

Jeff Zelevansky

Poor officiating clouded a dominating performance from the Steelers offensive line. Pittsburgh trailed 14-10 at halftime despite owning significant statistical advantages.

We're going to do this without the familar bullets because the font gets shrunk for some reason.

Speaking of shrunk...the Giants defense got buried throughout the first half of this game. The Steelers offensive line is improving dramatically with each passing quarter. Because of that, the Steelers, over the last three games, are one of the best rushing teams in the game. That's not an exaggeration.

Let's go over what happened...

Keenan Lewis gets things started on a good note. Clearly, the Giants want to establish their receivers early in this game. A poorly thrown ball by Eli Manning could have been intercepted by Lewis, but Hakeem Nicks does a good job pulling his right arm away from his chest, not giving Lewis a chance to secure the ball that bounced off his chest plate.

Sign of things to come for the Giants on third down. With one yard to go for a first down, they send four receivers into patterns, and Manning looks for an outside hitch to Reuben Randle, who read Ike Taylor's coverage as him needing to run a fly. On third and one. This kind of thing doomed the Giants all game.

What an outstanding job by the Steelers interior offensive line - center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Ramon Foster and left guard Willie Colon (Run PFC) on the first run of the game. Colon and Pouncey double-team the defensive right tackle, Pouncey releases and gets the linebacker as Foster controls the left defensive tackle. Isaac Redman's first carry goes for 11 yards, he isn't touched for the first five yards.

Mike Adams misses a cut on Justin Tuck, who has time to get in the air and knock a pass intended for Will Johnson down. More than anything, it shows how the Steelers want to get Johnson involved, something they did well in this game. He's becoming more of a threat with each passing game, and expect to see him used more against teams with less-than-stellar linebackers like the Giants have.

Adams gets whipped on Tuck's sack a few plays later, but redeems himself slightly with a much more aggressive cut block on Jason Pierre-Paul on an right screen pass to Chris Rainey. That goes to waste as Rainey reverses his field, keeps the ball on the play side of his body, leading to a fumble.

The play of Lewis's career comes on the Giants' second third down play of the game. The Giants pick up the Steelers blitz off the corner. Lewis, instead of fighting through the protection, drops back and reads Manning's eyes. He sees the pass and gets his arms in the air, knocking the pass down. That's three passes defensed on the Giants first two drives. Someone's arrived...

Roethlisberger ran for a few yards on a second and eight play that was intended to be a screen to David Paulson. It shows the versatility of this offense, and the presence of mind of offensive coordinator Todd Haley to try to limit the speed the Giants had on the edge. Roethlisberger wisely held onto the ball, though, the Giants were all over it.

LaMarr Woodley whiffs on a jam of Victor Cruz, but unless he knocked the receiver onto the ground (which probably would have drawn a flag), he's still wide open in the middle of the field and Manning still would have had time to make a throw. It was pretty much the Giants biggest gain of the first half.

What a great job by both Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward on Ike Taylor's interception. Both get good pushes on the pocket, but Heyward in particular does a great job with his hands, keeping his leverage on the blocker and pushing forward, as opposed to trying to get around him. That cuts off Manning's step-up opportunity, forcing him into a very uncomfortable position ("like the back of a Volkswagon"). The play may have been designed for Larry Foote to bring pressure up the middle, judging by Brett Keisel's shuffle off to the right, and the hole was there, but Foote wisely kept with the running back.

Manning looked to that running back as a last resort, and seeing it covered, you could tell he started to panic, and just threw the ball up toward Cruz on the sideline. Outstanding defensive play.

Excellent coverage by Giants cornerback Prine Amukamara on the deep pass to Brown that resulted in an incompletion and a high ankle sprain. He was with him step-for-step. May not have been the smartest throw Ben could have made, but sometimes you have to take your chances. You never know, the officials could throw a flag for seemingly ridiculous reasons.

Ahem.

Just a heads up if you're going to watch a game live. Just because a white guy catches the ball no longer means it's Heath Miller. You can just cheer with Paulson catches a pass, no need for the "HEEEEEEATH" cheer.

Johnson is just an incredible athlete. His reception doesn't go in the book as much, but he runs a shallow wheel route, leaves his feet to make the catch, takes a hit when he lands and falls forward. His speed and power is impressive. Again, he's going to continue to get more looks as the season wears on.

So Packers fans can shut up about John Kuhn now. Will Johnson is the future All Pro fullback.

Anyway, dominant Steelers rushing drive ends on a perfect pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders. You don't even draw them up looking better than that. 7-0 good guys.

I praised Heyward earlier, so that gives me some leeway to rip him. After the horrendous pass interference call on Lewis (Giants really wanted to keep going after him...not sure why), Heyward is targeted against the run twice, getting blown off the ball on the second one and barely moving from his spot on the first.

Heyward out, Hood in, then run off right tackle again, Hood is eliminated, leaving Lawrence Timmons to take on the pulling guard. Advantage, Giants. They aren't getting more than three and four yards at a time, but they own this edge.

The official doesn't appear to have even seen the play until he sees Cruz on the ground, jerks to a stop and reaches for his flag. In other words, if he didn't see Cruz laying on the ground, he wouldn't have noticed. Nice job, Superfraud.

Bradshaw's left shoulder is on the ground and the ball clearly has not broken the plane of the end zone. Guess which way they're going to rule it, though?

Alright, maybe he got it in before his shoulder hit. I don't care. Terrible calls on this drive.

Rainey redeems himself on the fumble with a nice kick return. This is set up by great blocks by Ryan Mundy, Cortez Allen and Brandon Johnson. Will Johnson gets down field to lead Rainey who was a step away from breaking it.

Redman's 11-yard run on second and 10 is a thing of beauty. Play call, execution (Foster, Adams, Miller) and great vision from Redman.

I won't get into whether or not Roethlisberger's fumble really was a fumble, what I know is officials will no longer stop the play, and that's the ultimate problem. They intentionally rule everything a fumble because replay will bail them out if they're wrong at no consequence to either team (they don't have to use a challenge).

The problem is the officials take the rest of the play off. They stop watching, and let everything play out. There is no other reason I'll entertain as being legitimate to explain how they failed to flag Pierre-Paul's clear and obvious block in the back on Heath Miller.

And that wasn't even the worst call of the game. Just a horrendous job all around. I don't do conspiracies, I don't think the league fixed the game. I do think the officials in this game were horrible, and if these are the "regular" officials, I think everyone clearly lost in the lockout.

Love the decision to go for it on fourth and inches after a Rainey swing pass came up short. Mike Tomlin knows the Steelers are kicking the tar out of the Giants up front and he's going to let the big dogs eat.

And they do, right off Mike Adams' butt, with the help of fellow rookie David Paulson. I love seeing the rookies making plays, and Adams and Foster are playing at a different level right now.

Now...Adams needs to work a bit on his pass pro. He gets beat again by Pierre-Paul on third and long, setting up the field goal.

The Giants really did nothing in this half. Fumble or no, block in the back or no, hat-to-hat, the Steelers thoroughly dominated this team from a physical standpoint.

This half of football gives the Steelers the greatest attribute a team can have in its run for a championship; Us Against The World.


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